Writing a Novel by Hand vs. On the Computer, and Other Things I Know You Wondered but Weren’t Nerdy Enough to Ask

I’m writing this post on a sheet of paper.

That may not mean much (or make much sense), but it will shortly. I hope.

For those following me on Facebook, it might seem like I’ve been in a tumultuous tornado of literature with my book covers, novels, edits and more right now. But look!


A fully printed out copy of a certain sequel to a certain book, all ripe for tearing to sheds with my edits! Yay!

No, this isn’t the sequel to I Am Phantom. It’s the sequel to something I will be announcing later in the year, so keep your ears perked or sign up for my newsletter to learn sooner. It’s not as exciting an announcement as, say, a baby (which seems to be the current theme among some of my friends back home), but it’s pretty close. Consider it my baby.

But while I was printing out this collection of slaughtered trees, it got me thinking. See, as a general rule, my writing process goes like this:

  • A book idea descends from the heavens and bestows its brilliance upon me
  • Something immediately distracts me from that idea, such as a passing butterfly
  • I write down idea in a notebook, usually in the format of a book
  • Type up said book in computer (can you say carpal tunnel?)
  • Forget book for a while
  • The Glorious Return to the Book! Hopefully in the time away it has fermented into something resembling a finely aged cheese.
  • Open up the book document on my computer and shudder at what state the book is actually in
  • Perform minor edits on the computer
  • Print out entire book. Send money to Save the Rainforest Foundation to offset guilt
  • Edit book by hand
  • Input edits into computer
  • Perform final edits on the computer and final readthrough
  • Send it out to my unsuspecting victims


It’s a process that’s constantly being refined.

However, over the course of the Sean’s Getting Burned Out from Writing Too Much World Tour back in May of this year, I decided to write the sequel to I Am Phantom entirely on the computer to save me time. No beloved hand writing, no inputting edits, no printing it off.

And I did it!

It was miserable.

I mean, how do some authors manage to write book after book on their computers? I already spend enough hours of my day staring at a screen, but to do it for my writing, too?

Okay, well, what did I learn? A few things, actually:

  1. The Process Wasn’t Much Faster:

Some of you are like, ‘Wait, whaa?’. Surprising, right? How can typing something up be slower than handwriting and then transferring it to the computer?

What I found with writing on the computer was that I’d get tired of writing way too easily, only doing it for a couple hour chunks at a time, before being done for the day. Handwriting’s a little different. Like a contented grazing cow, I browse between intermittent chunks of writing throughout the day. A half hour here, hour there, and by the day’s end the cumulative writing totals quite a bit. Certainly more than on the computer, and infinitely more enjoyable.

  1. The Writing Experience Was Vastly Different:

Look up any article online comparing the benefits of handwriting vs. typing online. Go on, I dare you. It’s exactly as nerdy as it sounds.

Most agree that writing by hand elicits using a different thought process than typing. I can understand that. See, writing by hand is a tactile experience. The connection from mind to paper flows on a different pathway with a pen than it done from the fingers to the keys. By hand, you write slower, so the thoughts in your mind take more time to fully form before you put them down. I’ve had tons of writers I know find they become unstuck, or write more words or with more quality, once they unplug from the computer and pick up some paper.

You ever have an idea pop into your head that you think is just perfect, but when you go to write it down, it comes out so much different than you’d imagined it? That’s not just you being forgetful, that’s a real thing, and for me, using a computer only made this experience worse. It still exists with a pen, but in a much more subdued sense. With pen and paper you’re forced to spend more time with your ideas, and because of that, at least for me, they emerge more fully realized. Not only does this make it easier for thinking, but it better grounds me in the story and characters and, I believe for me, produces better writing.

  1. …But My Writing Style Was Only A Little Different:

I think. The jury’s still out with my editor on this point, but I’ll give my thoughts on it anyway because it’s my blog and I do what I want.

Since you’re able to easily jot down whatever comes to mind quickly on the keyboard, the style of the I Am Phantom sequel, to me, felt quicker, punchier, but didn’t flow or stick together as well as I think it might have if I’d written by hand. Place descriptions were simplistically written, character actions repetitious (since I was writing so fast I simply typed the first action that popped into my head), and overall I felt less of a connection with the story, characters, and scenarios like I described in point two.

And yet…

When I went back to edit, the book didn’t turn out to be the grotesque monstrosity I thought it’d be (again, don’t know that for sure, but we’ll see come August).

I did have to do more clean up. Some extra scene changes I don’t think I’d needed to have done if I’d written by hand, and I wasn’t as invested in the story, but all in all, it worked. I don’t want to ever force myself to write a book in a month again (sorry, NanoWrimo), but it worked.


So with all that, will I ever rush through and type out an entire book like that again?

No. No I won’t.

I’ve learned many things about the writing process as a whole, and my writing process in particular just these past few months. Extreme personal pressure and rushing do not benefit my creative flow. I’d much rather be an author that puts out two really good books a year, and have those carry me through to the next, rather than continuously pump them out one after the other. Some authors can do that, and I respect their process. But alas, I am not capable, or willing, to do so.

And now I’m off to continue editing my next work. By hand, of course.